World leaders announce new commitments at climate summit

Article by Amanda Doyle

US President Joe Biden hosted a climate summit on Earth Day, where some world leaders announced new commitments and Biden unveiled the US’ new Paris Agreement pledge.

Biden invited 40 world leaders to the Leaders Summit on Climate, held on 22 and 23 April, to share their commitments on dealing with the climate crisis. In his opening speech, Biden said that when he thinks about the climate crisis, he also thinks about the economic opportunities presented and the jobs that can be created. He said that he sees opportunities for workers laying transmissions lines for a cleaner electricity grid, workers capping abandoned oil and gas wells and abandoned coal mines, and engineers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants to produce clean power as well as cleaner steel and cement.  

“I want to build a critical infrastructure to produce and deploy clean technology – both those we can harness today and those that we’ll invent tomorrow. I talked to the experts, and I see the potential for a more prosperous and equitable future. The signs are unmistakable.  The science is undeniable. But the cost of inaction keeps mounting.”

Biden brought the US back into the Paris Agreement after taking office in January. The Paris Agreement requires an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) every five years, and Biden announced the new NDC for the US prior to the summit.

The original NDC set by former President Barack Obama in 2015 aimed to cut emissions by 26–28% by 2025. The US has now pledged to reduce emissions 50–52% from 2005 levels by 2030 as part of the goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, according to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the emissions reduction target is not aligned with the 1.5oC pathway and would need to be 57–63% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The NDC was developed using a whole-government approach via the county’s National Climate Task Force, and considered sector-by-sector emissions reductions pathways. The aims of the NDC include having 100% CO2 pollution-free electricity by 2035, reducing emissions from the transportation sector, addressing pollution from industry, and investing in innovation. The US will support R&D as well as commercialisation of low and zero carbon processes and products. It will also incentivise the use of carbon capture as well as new sources of hydrogen produced from renewable energy, nuclear energy, or waste.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said in The Guardian: “After four years of darkness, we now have an administration taking an all-of-government approach. The US is now the first country whose head of state has asked every single department, every single government agency – transport, energy, interior, security, education, health – to fulfil their responsibilities to US citizens through a climate lens. That is an extraordinary step that should be commended, and emulated by everyone.”

US energy transition

On the second day of the summit, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm also commented on the economic opportunities of the energy transition, saying that there could be (at least) a US$23trn global market in the clean energy transition by 2030. She said that the US would cut the cost of solar by half and lower the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% by 2030, cut battery prices in half, and “dramatically reduce the costs of industrial and atmospheric carbon capture, while ramping up incentives for large-scale efforts, here and across the world.”

The Department of Energy also announced US$109.5m in funding for projects to support job creation in coal and power plant communities that would be affected by the energy transition. “The coal and power plant workers who built our nation can play a huge role in making America’s clean energy future a reality,” said Granholm. “This new DOE funding will help spark next-generation industries that these workers can not only participate in, but lead, and I look forward to working together on investments and strategies that empower, revitalise, and retain and create jobs in our energy communities.”

Pledges from other countries

Other world leaders took the opportunity to announce new climate goals. Yoshihide Suga, Prime Minister of Japan, announced that Japan will cut emissions by 46–50% by 2030 from 2013 levels, an improvement the previous goal of 26%. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, said that the country will cut its emissions by 40–45% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, up from the previous goal of 30%. The EU’s target to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 – originally announced in December – was enshrined into the European Climate Law prior to the summit, and the UK had announced a cut of 78% of emissions by 2035 prior to the summit.

China’s President, Xi Jinping,  reaffirmed the country’s previously-announced commitment to be net zero by 2060. He also said coal use in China would peak by 2025 before being actively phased down in the second half of the decade. This announcement is significant as China is the biggest consumer of coal in the world. However, CAT noted that the commitment to reduce coal does not include any limit on coal growth in the next five years.

Australia’s PM Scott Morrison did not announce any stronger targets, saying that the country would reach net zero, but not specifying a target date. Its current target is only a 26–28% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Morrison said that Australia would deal with the climate crisis through the use of technology, not carbon taxes. According to the Investor Group on Climate Change, Australia’s lack of commitment at the summit compared to others will result in it having the economy with the highest emissions intensity of the G20 countries by 2030.

Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, said that the country would aim to be net zero by 2050, bringing forward the target by ten years, but didn’t announce a stronger 2030 target. He claimed the country would stop illegal deforestation by 2030 and would double the funds for enforcement to deal with deforestation of the Amazon. However, a day after the summit, Bolsonaro approved a 24% cut to Brazil’s 2021 environment budget, according to The Guardian.

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, said that South Africa is currently in the process of updating its NDC to accelerate its climate action and the draft NDC has been released for public consultation. South Africa aims to have emissions peak by 2025 and decline thereafter, an improvement on its previous pledge to peak and plateau emissions in 2025 but only decline from 2035.  

CAT said that the global emissions gap had closed by around 12–14% (2.6–3.7bn tCO2e), which is the largest reduction in the emissions gap to date. Niklas Höhne, of NewClimate Institute, a CAT partner organisation, said: “It’s clear the US is back in the climate game, and, for the first time, is lining up to be a leader. With other big emitters like Japan, the EU and the UK also stepping up, we are now starting to see the kind of near-term climate action the world needs to win the race to zero by 2050, and keep warming to 1.5 oC . While the gap is still huge, the summit created new momentum.”

In closing the summit, Biden said: “I want to take a moment to thank the world leaders and all the participants from around the globe who have joined together to confront the existential threat of climate change.

“Thank you for stepping up to confront this crisis before it’s too late. I know we can seize the opportunities of a cleaner, stronger, and more resilient economy and deliver the benefits to people in each of our nations.

“I look forward to working alongside you to confront the climate crisis, to build a better world for all of our children and grandchildren. We’re going to do this together.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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